What’s in a Graduation Rate?

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Rhode Island’s overall improvement in graduation rates is quite the topic of conversation, lately.  Here’s WPRI’s Dan McGowan pointing out a caveat that ought to be applied:

There are still some red flags.

One common criticism about high school graduation rates across the country is that schools can lower their standards just to make sure more students earn their diploma. This isn’t easy to prove, but we know public officials have raised concerns about social promotion and we know there is real pressure on schools to improve completion rates. One way to analyze the value of a high school diploma is to track how students fare in college. For Rhode Island, those results are mixed. The new U.S. News & World Report ranking of the 50 states places Rhode Island at No. 49 when it comes to two-year college graduation rates, which means it’s taking longer than it should for students to earn their associate degree. While Governor Raimondo’s office would say the cost of school is the primary reason students don’t complete college, it’s also worth noting that hundreds of community college students have to register for remedial courses each year. For four-year colleges, Rhode Island fares better, ranking No. 23 for students who earn their bachelor’s degree within six years of entering school.

This is an area in which data is very hard to come by.  Rhode Island changed its education formula after the 2005-2006 school year, and data isn’t easily available to recalculate the old rates in the new way or the new rates in the old way.  The one year for which the Dept. of Education did the calculation both ways, 2006-2007, shows a huge drop in the rate, from 89% to 70%.

Coming as close as I’m able to calculating the new numbers with the old method (basically graduates divided by the number of freshmen from that class who either graduated or dropped out… that is, excluding transfers and those continuing for extra years), the increase since 2007 has been minimal.  I wouldn’t make much of this, though, because something is clearly missing from my numbers, and the new method strikes me as preferable.

That said, the problems McGowan points out are key.  Sure, we can improve graduation rates by reducing standards, and Rhode Island’s education establishment has been fighting political warfare to keep any measurement of that from taking hold.

All of this is why families need school choice, so they can choose the metrics and make the decisions.



  • Rhett Hardwick

    I am sure I am repeating myself, but the Comm. for Education in Mass once said “When we decided everyone should graduate from High School. we implicitly lowered the standards”.

  • Mike678

    So sad. Is the Governor’s plan to have taxpayers pay for two years of study at a community college little more than an admission that High School is now a six year program?

    • Rhett Hardwick

      I have always regarded Community Colleges to be remedial “High School”.

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